Totem Tribe Home Theater Speaker System

      Date posted: November 26, 2007

Totem Tribe SystemTotem Tribe I Sugg Retail: $750US/$875CA ea Size: 26″H x 6″W x 4″D

Totem Tribe II Sugg. Retail: $950US/$1150CA ea Size: 29″H x 6″W x 4″D

Totem Storm Subwoofer Sugg. Retail: $1000US/$1100CA Size: 12″H x 11″w 14″D

Manufacturer: Totem Acoustic, 9165 Chanp Deau, Saint-Leonard QC H1P 3M3 (514) 259-1062 FAX 259-4968

The slogan on the brochure front is, “Stealth Elegance and Power”. With all due respect to the Francophone, Native, and Italian heritage of Totem founder, Vince Bruzzese, it makes me think of my English grammatical idol, Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Gotham Books, in which the title actually refers to the eating habits of the Panda, not James Bond). Punctuation RULES! If it were “Stealth, Elegance and Power”, it would place the speakers’ (not the speaker’s) elegance and power on a par with its (not it’s) stealth, which is, I assume, not what they want. Stealth, here, is a modifier, an adjective, so that the quality of stealthiness is applied to the appearance and deceptive acoustic power of the speakers. Now, you knew all of that, didn’t you? Strictly speaking, grammar and punctuation are too often a morass of missed meaning. Understand it, or you won’t be understood, which, of course, makes the assumption that your readers also do. I make that assumption.
Totem Storm Subwoofer
That out of the way (and none too soon!), we have before us two wall-mountable speakers slightly different in size (with a larger Tribe III also newly available), and a subwoofer that combines a front active 8″ driver that also moves a pair of side-mounted passive units. The Storm is quite compact, especially considering its radiating area from three of four vertical sides. Totem has some quite interesting things to say about this HT system in their literature and on the web site: “All Tribe models are designed to match any application or flat panel display.” “…each model is luxuriously detailed and perfectly proportioned, being among the slimmest wall speakers available.” “Hand-assembled and hardwired, each Tribe’s crossover involves few elements because of driver blend. Each model incorporates revolutionary and state-of-the-art MundorfR Supreme Gold/Silver foil capacitors in its crossover.” The driver complement includes “ultra-quick, frequency-extended, neodymium-activated woofers”, and a “Long-throw, hyper-extended, 29 mm soft dome tweeter.”

The Tribe I is said to be aesthetically and acoustically compatible with 40-45″ flat panel displays, and the Tribe II with 50-55″ inch screens. Both are quite light in weight at 14 and 18 pounds, respectively. In keeping, finishes are a nice soft lustre black and silver, not quite as flashily shiny as that of some others, and I like them both. “Like its big brother, the Thunder, the Storm has many advanced design features, yet adds a few of its own to facilitate multiple uses. The front firing driver in the Storm shares external cone topography and materials with the two flanking passive units. We believe this contributes to a more informative and less compressed energy flow” says Totem.

“The Storm benefits aesthetically by offering choice from Totem’s four veneers on all faces and has the added benefit of availability in gloss black, matching the Tribe on-wall models.” Those veneers are Maple, Cherry, Mahogany, and black ash. The Storm uses a 300-watt amplifier into a “specially designed low noise/distortion unit”. It has both low and high level inputs with passthrough in both cases, variable phase, as well as internal crossover defeat for full control from external electronic crossover or HT receiver. Tribe 1 Frequency Response I did two separate sets of measurements, one for each Tribe, showing the subwoofer in both graphs. In each case, the top set of curves is for Pink Noise Sweep (PNS) and Summed Axial response overlaid, the next down the Axial curves themselves, at 0, 15 and 30 degrees off axis. At bottom are those for each speaker laid on its side, as it would be when used on top of or above a large screen as centre channel. At left are the three curves for the subwoofer at full, middle, and minimum crossover settings, all these taken at the same level, about 85 dB at one metre.

The responses are all of a family, of course, with a bit of droop in the midrange, with extended upper octaves, all of this within +/-2 dB or so from below 100 Hz to about 15 kHz. The SAR curves reflect the controlled dispersion in both designs at 30 degrees off axis, a good engineering choice for wall mounting in order to minimize diffraction effects. That can be seen in the Axial curves below for both speakers.

Looking to the left, the earlier rolloff in the bass can be easily noted in the Tribe I, that of the I starting at 160 Hz and down 4 dB at 100, the II down only 3 dB at 100 Hz. The I is off 10 dB at 60 Hz, the II holding up better bass-wise at -2. Both depend on the subwoofer’s response below that frequency, so let’s look at it. Tribe 2 Frequency response

At both its top and middle settings, the Storm is more like a mountain, its peak at 70 Hz, and -10 dB slopes at 150 and 160 Hz on the upslope, and at 40 Hz on the downslope, so to speak. That’s a little extreme, as the other curves show, though perhaps a good fit when effects power is desired above extension. In my view, the bottom half of the crossover control’s range is much more useful, the bottom setting yielding a quite flat +/-2 1/2 dB from 100 to 30 Hz; this is best seen in the Tribe I measurements, for which I moved the three curve groups a few dB farther apart to clear the clutter of crossing lines below 100 Hz on the II graph.

And now, some thoughts about the bottom group of curves for each speaker, those done with each on its side. In any design where woofer/midrange drivers flank the tweeter, the interaction, or lobing characteristics, are different when the speakers are horizontally mounted. The same things are still happening acoustically, but in 90 degree opposed directions. That can be seen here in the midrange of the sideways measurements, where at 30 degrees off the horizontal axis, the ends of the couch, if you like, there is a droop in the mids. In most cases, there will be enough centre information coming from left and right speakers to compensate, but with centre and left/right channels all highly separated, centre level will be down 2 or 3 dB for widely spaced listeners.

These Totem speakers are able to be combined or used each as separate systems, and, given the similarity of the II and I in the bass rolloff characteristics, I’d be inclined to recommend the latter smaller one as more cost-effective, especially in 5s, with the low-end slack easily taken up by the sub. Either way, we have an elegant offering of real audiophile quality for on-wall use.

Andrew Marshall

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